$20 Gold CoinI enjoy collecting stories that have a moral.  This is an ancient method of teaching exemplified by Aesop’s Fables, a collection of short stories that always illustrated a lesson about life.  We remember stories when we don’t remember facts or statements.  As humans, we’re wired that way.

The stories always start from some everyday occurrence, then show the consequences of following normal behavior or some surprising twist that ends in success.

Imagine that you are with a group of friends when one of you notices another friend coming down the street.  The friend is obviously downcast so you ask what is wrong.  The friend then pours forth a tale of woe.  What do you and your friends do?  Most people will express their sadness and hopes for a solution.  That’s where the story usually ends.  But imagine for a minute what would happen if one of you turns to another that has been silent and asks, “Don’t you feel sorry for him?”  And the reply is, “Yes, I feel sorry for him.  I feel $20 sorry for him!”  And with that, he reaches for his billfold and pulls out a $20 bill and gives it to the unfortunate person.

What do you and the others do?

The above is a re-telling of a story I heard about the Mormon prophet, Joseph Smith.  In that story, Joseph Smith pulled out a $20 gold piece, the others followed suit and the friend’s problem was solved.

I like that story because it illustrates a principle that has been articulated many times but seems to fall on deaf ears.  Simply put, most of the woes of this world can be solved by localized, personal actions, often on a one-to-one basis.  But there’s an assumption made that should be brought forward and placed front and center for all to see and understand.  The assumption is that the individual, the one present, acts.

To act requires that we be aware of our surroundings, people, and our circumstances.  Joseph Smith couldn’t have been $20 sorry if he didn’t have $20.  But too many of us don’t bother to notice anything unless it directly affects us or forces us to face whatever it is.  How many acts do you do daily that you don’t even think about?  In an old Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movie, Sherlock chides Watson for not being observant and Watson protests that he is observant, then Sherlock asks him how many steps there are at their front door.  Watson, who has walked those steps thousands of times, doesn’t know.

So, it is with us.

We are asked by law enforcement and Homeland Security to “See something, Say something.”  But over and over again, after a tragedy, the lesson will be hammered home that it could have been prevented but those who saw something didn’t really see it.

But we can get better.  It just takes practice.

  • Start by visualizing the steps leading into your home. How many are there?
  • You’re sitting in your car, what’s the license plate number of the vehicle in front of you?
  • You’re entering your workplace, who was the first person you met? What type of shoes were they wearing?

None of these items are likely to be vitally important – but the effort to NOTICE them is what is important.  Because we ignore too much of the world around us.  And because we ignore, we don’t act when we can.  And because we don’t act, the world doesn’t change.

Who knows, you may be $20 sorry.

A physicist by trade, author by choice, a born teacher, a retired veteran, and an adamant problem solver, Frank has helped the White House, federal agencies, military offices, historical museums, manufacturers, and over 250 technology startups get stuff done, communicate effectively, and find practical solutions that work for them. In his spare time, he makes sawdust and watches Godzilla movies.